New York

Hunt Slonem

Lannon Gallery

Characterized by a luscious handling of oils, Hunt Slonem’s recent paintings depict the exotic birds that he collects and that share his downtown studio. The paintings are at once abstract and representational: the multiple grids recall the bars of the bird cages; and the birds themselves are simultaneously recognizable forms and moments of pure color. Slonem creates rich, luminous compositions that are not only a source of visual pleasure, but also reflect his long-standing preoccupation with the natural world as a site of spiritual transcendence.

Each element of Slonem’s work—the interlocking patterns scratched into thick layers of pigment, the sharply contrasting colors, the gold-toned frames—reflects his attention to the medium. In Enoch (all works 1995), one of a dazzling group of predominantly blue-and-gold compositions that were on display, birds punctuated alternately dark and luminescent, painterly passages that together evoked the lush foliage of a tropical jungle. Half-hidden and seemingly about to disappear altogether, these rare creatures poignantly suggest all that is being lost as our environment is destroyed. In Slonem’s recent paintings, birds—symbols of the human soul—point to the need to create a space for the spiritual and to the increasingly narrow confines that it inhabits.

As John Ashbery said in a recent catalogue essay for the artist, “If there is allegory here it concerns the subtle and not necessarily antagonistic relations between life and the structures that both confine and support it, an allegory of how humanity interacts with the restrictions it has either stumbled on or erected to advance its business.”

Ronny Cohen